Looking at Plastics: An Introduction to Caring for Plastics

Plastics are everywhere – they are an inescapable part of our lives both at home and in our collections. Plastics present a deceptive promise of permanence yet we know from experience that their preservation is not an easy task.

We may be able to identify something broadly as “plastic,” however, not all plastics are the same. Do you know which plastics are in your collections? Do you know how to identify different plastics? Do you know how to handle and store plastics? Which plastics are most at risk for deterioration? Which ones have the capacity to negatively affect nearby materials? The goal of this webinar it to help you more fully understand plastics so that you can make a preservation strategy based on the recognition of risks inherent in some plastics and the threat they can pose to other materials. Learn how to monitor and mitigate problems that may arise from the deterioration of plastics in your collection.


coughlinMary Coughlin is an Assistant Professor in the Museum Studies Graduate Program at The George Washington University where she teaches Preventive Conservation and heads the distance education graduate certificate program in Museum Collections Management and Care. Coughlin is a Magna Cum Laude graduate of Mary Washington College where she completed her BA in Historic Preservation. She earned a Master’s degree from the Winterthur University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation where she specialized in Objects Conservation and Preventive Conservation. She has an interest in the conservation challenges of contemporary museum collections, particularly with respect to plastic. Before she began teaching full time, she worked in the Objects Conservation Laboratory of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. She spent a year as a Samuel H. Kress Fellow studying plastics and went on to conserve objects as diverse as FDR’s leg braces and Star War’s C-3PO and R2-D2. Coughlin is currently Chair of the Collection Care Network of the American Institute for Conservation.

Recorded: Tuesday, November 27, 2018
Duration: 1 Hour 28 minutes



Looking at Plastics PowerPoint Slides


Looking at Plastics Handout


Cresol Red Indicator


History of Plastics Timeline


Poll Responses